Five things you didn’t know about your baby’s skin

Caitlin McCormack
Shine On
September 25, 2012

Babies aren't just smaller version of their parents; they come with their own unique sets of quirks and differences from their adult counterparts. Baby's skin is just one area where there are noticeable differences between newborns and grown-ups, from sweating to crying. Read on to discover five things you probably didn't know about your little one's skin and how it's different from yours.

Infants under 6 months should not use sunscreen

"Baby's skin is much thinner and more sensitive than adult's skin, making them much more susceptible to the sun's ray," notes David Mays, director scientific affairs at Johnson & Johnson.

Mays says this is why the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that babies' sun exposure be limited, and little ones wear protective clothing, hats, and stay in the shade when outdoors. The CPS and Health Canada also advise avoiding sunscreen for babies under 6 months of age, as their safety has not been tested on children so young.

"However, if baby sun exposure is unavoidable, a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher can be used on small areas such as the face and back of the hands," says Mays, but always be sure to consult with your child's doctor first.

Don't forget to reapply if periods of prolonged exposure can't be avoided.

Babies don't sweat (much)

While babies are born with sweat glands and can perspire, only some of these glands are active in newborns — meaning they don't have as much control over temperature regulation as adults do.

"Sebum production is also quite active when a child is born which is why we often see small white heads on a baby's skin," says Mays. These glands kick into high-gear at puberty, he says, at the same time that the gland responsible for producing odour also becomes active.

Babies can't (easily) cry tears at birth

Since their eyes and tear ducts are still developing, babies don't produce as many tears at birth as older children or adults, although they can have some tearing.

A study by Johnson's found that the level of tearing increases over the first month, and by four weeks of age, 87% of babies will tear normally.

"Babies' eyes also differ from adult eyes in that babies keep their eyes open much longer than do adults (intervals of 23-60 vs. 11 seconds)," note Mays, "And while the blink reflex is present at birth, newborns and young children blink much less than adults."

[See also: Teacher tips to help your child succeed in school]

Natural is not always better

"People often assume that natural means chemical-free or safe," says Susan Nettesheim, vice president, research & development product stewardship & toxicology for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. "However, products from nature are also made of chemicals and some plant-derived chemicals are extremely irritating — think of poison ivy and poison oak."

She notes that an ingredient as simple as 'orange peel' on a product label might seem harmless, but can cause problems for sensitive individuals.

"When broken down; an orange peel has over 30 ingredients, including methyl nthranilate, linalyl acetate and three known allergens (limonene, linalool, geraniol) which could cause sensitivities."

When in doubt, consult with your child's healthcare provider or check consumer safety websites.

Baby skin is more sensitive to dryness than adults

Mays notes that babies' skin is still developing for at least the first year of their life and that compared to an adult's skin, the outer layer is thinner and made of smaller cells. He describes these cells, or glyphics as small islands surrounded by a dense network of relief lines.

Whereas in an adult, these islands are much larger and less defined, babies have smaller glyphics, making their skin less able to hold onto moisture than an adult, he says.

"As a result, a baby's skin absorbs more and loses water more quickly than adult skin, making their skin more susceptible to dryness," he says.

Not overbathing your little one and using lotions and creams can help protect your baby's skin and prevent it from drying out. Consult with your child's healthcare provider to find the right product for your baby's need.

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